Defense has been a part of the Minnesota Wild’s identity for most of the franchise’s existence. After all, Jacques Lemaire was the first coach in the Wild’s history, and anyone familiar with him knows how defensively-minded he can be. Keeping that in mind, a team needs to have capable defensemen to succeed defensively.
Throughout the years, the Wild have seen defensemen come and go who’ve performed at both ends of the ice. They’ve had players put up impressive point totals from the back end while keeping the puck out of their own net. The franchise has only been around for 21 seasons, so you may notice that a lot of the names on this list are still active. Keeping that in mind, here’s a look at the top 5 defensemen in Wild history.
5. Brent Burns
While most people think of the San Jose Sharks when they think of Brent Burns, it’s important to remember that his career actually began with the Minnesota Wild. The team selected him with the 20th overall pick in the legendary 2003 NHL draft class.
Burns played right wing for his sole season with the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League. However, upon joining the Wild, the team moved him to defense. Burns would go on to make his NHL debut in the 2003-04 season, tallying six points in 36 games.
After the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, Burns would begin to showcase his offensive talent in Minnesota. His point totals kept on increasing until he reached 43 points in the 2007-08 NHL Season. That total ranked him fifth on the team for points that season and was the first time that Burns reached double digits in goals (15).
While Burns has achieved many accolades throughout his NHL career, including winning the Norris Trophy in 2017, almost none of them happened while he was with the Wild. He did make the NHL All-Star Game in 2011, but that’s about the extent of his Minnesota-related accomplishments. Burns would tally 46 points that season, including 17 goals which is still a franchise record to this day for Wild defensemen. Unfortunately, this would be the last fans would see if Burns in a Minnesota jersey.
The Wild wound up trading Burns and a 2012 second-round pick to the Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a 2011 first-round pick that wound up becoming Zack Phillips. Even though he’s been a Shark longer than he played for the Wild, Minnesota fans shouldn’t forget what he accomplished on the team.
Burns ranks fifth in all-time games played by Wild defensemen (453), third in goals (55) and assists (128) and fourth in points (183). It’s fairly impressive that he’s able to rank that high in all of those categories despite only spending seven seasons in Minnesota. Fans can only wonder how high he’d rank if Burns was never traded.
4. Jonas Brodin
Jonas Brodin may be one of the more underrated defensemen across the NHL in Wild history. His smooth skating style and ability to have a presence at both ends of the ice have made him a part of the team’s core for the better part of the last decade.
The Wild drafted Brodin with the 10th overall pick in 2011. The argument could also be made that either he or Dougie Hamilton were the best defensemen taken in the first round of that draft. Brodin would go on to make his NHL debut a couple of seasons later in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign. While he didn’t put up any eye-popping numbers in his rookie season, he recorded 11 points in 45 games and was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team. The Wild also returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008; however, they lost 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
Still, Brodin showed promise in his rookie season and would continue being a defensive presence on the Wild’s blue line for years to come. The Swede’s career-high in points might be 28, but the team has never needed him to be an offensive juggernaut. His main role is to shut down the opposing team’s best players, and he’s managed to play his role effectively into the 2020-21 NHL Season. The Hockey Writers’ Lucas Burrell recently reported that Brodin’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was in the top-10 among defensemen so far this season. That just goes to show you how valued Brodin’s role within the organization is.
Back in September, Brodin signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Wild that will keep him with the team until his mid-30s. With the style of hockey he plays, he should continue being an important piece of the team’s core for years to come. As it stands, Brodin 591 games played with the Wild rank him fifth all-time among defensemen in that category. Despite offense not being his primary role, Brodin also ranks fifth in points (162).
3. Matt Dumba
A total of eight defensemen were selected within the first 10 picks at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and Matt Dumba was one of them. The Wild took him at no. 7 after he recorded 57 points in 69 games with the Red Deer Rebels in the previous Western Hockey League season.
Dumba wouldn’t play an NHL game until the 2013-14 season, but even then, he didn’t become an instant focal point of the team. After all, it’s not out of the ordinary for a defenseman to take longer to be NHL-ready than other positions. Dumba would split time between the NHL and American Hockey League before joining the Wild full-time in the 2015-16 NHL Season.
Once he became a permanent member of the roster, Dumba’s presence could be felt at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he’s been one of the most lethal body checkers in franchise history. His 574 career hits have him trailing only Jared Spurgeon (602) for the most among all defensemen who’ve suited up for the Wild. Offensively, Dumba is just one of two blueliners in franchise history to record 50 points, which he did exactly in 2017-18.
Not only has Dumba been a leader on the ice, but he’s contributed off-ice as well. He’s worked hard to fight against anti-Asian and Black racism in local communities. His effort earned him the 2019-20 King Clancy Award, which is given to a player who’s showcases leadership both on the ice and in the community. He’s also under contract with the Wild until the end of the 2022-23 NHL Season, so fans should be happy the Wild will feel Dumba’s presence for at least the next few seasons.
2. Ryan Suter
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s almost been nine years since Ryan Suter signed his 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild. Just like any time a team has committed that lengthy for that much money, some saw the signing as a risk. Fortunately for the organization and its fans, Suter’s time with the Wild has been nothing short of impressive.
Suter debuted with the team in the 2012-13 NHL Season, immediately becoming an alternate captain, which shows how much the team valued his locker room presence. He’d go on to finish the season with 32 points in 48 games (0.667 points per game). He’d end up being one of the three Norris Trophy finalists for best defensemen in the NHL that season, ultimately losing out to P.K. Subban.
Suter has also been a symbol of stability over the years in Minnesota. In nine seasons with the Wild, he has missed just nine games. Sometimes lengthy contracts can be derailed by injuries or buyer’s remorse within a few years, but not when it comes to the Madison, Wisconsin native. Remarkably, he’s been able to stay as healthy as he has over the years with how physical he can play at times.
While the league knows how good Suter is in his own end with the puck, it’s important to remember how dangerous he can be in the offensive zone. He has two 51-point seasons as a member of the Wild, which is something that no other defenseman has been able to reach. He also has the four highest assist totals as well. Overall, some of the franchise records for defensemen that Suter holds include points (364), power play points (136) and assists (311). To make things more interesting, Suter has more assists than the 295 points that Jarden Spurgeon, the Wild’s second-highest scoring defensemen, has.
Even if Suter has never won a Norris Trophy with the Wild, that doesn’t lessen his contributions over the years. Truthfully, not many defensemen could compete at a level as high as he has for this length of time. Even at 36 years old, he has 14 points in 38 games and is still playing important minutes for the team. Depending on how the rest of his career finishes out, he could move up to the top spot on the Wild’s all-time defensemen list.
1. Jared Spurgeon
Jared Spurgeon‘s NHL career began unconventionally. He was drafted 156th overall in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders. The team failed to sign him to his entry-level contract, so he became a free agent and was eventually invited to the Wild’s 2010-11 training camp. Even though he started off the season with the Houston Aeros in the AHL, he would soon earn a call-up and become the Wild’s best defenseman of all time.
Impactful two-way defensemen can be hard to come by, which is why the Wild should be thankful that they wound up with Spurgeon for free. He has a knack for scoring when he has the puck. He, Burns and Dumba are the only defensemen in Wild history to have double digital goal totals in multiple seasons. In total, Spurgeon has scored 10 or more goals four times, including a career-high 14 back in 2018-19. The versatile blueliner holds the Wild’s record for most goals by a defenseman with 86. He also holds the records for most power play goals (31) and game-winning goals (15).
As impressive as Spurgeon’s offensive totals are, his defensive play is nothing to scoff at. No defenseman in Wild history has more hits (602) and blocked shots (1,164) than him. Spurgeon isn’t afraid of sacrificing his body if it means that his team has a better chance at winning. It’s this kind of leadership mentality that saw him being awarded the captaincy at the start of the 2020-21 NHL Season.
Spurgeon has shown that he’s capable of being a leader on and off the ice, helping the Wild make the playoffs seven times in the previous 10 seasons since he’s joined the team. Whenever the team slips up, Spurgeon’s not afraid to hold everybody accountable. Even if most of the league doesn’t consider him when talking about the best defensemen, his teammates know his value to the Wild organization. His presence may not show up on the box score every night, but that’s not always his job.
The Wild committed to Spurgeon for the foreseeable future when he signed a seven-year, $53.025 million contract in 2019 that’ll see him remain with the team until he’s 37 years old. The good thing about him being a two-way defenseman means that when his offensive game starts to slow down, he can work more on a shutdown role. Either way, Spurgeon has been a cornerstone of the franchise since he arrived in town almost 10 years ago, and barring an unexpected change, that should continue for the rest of his career.
Not bad for a sixth round pick.
Your Favorite Wild Defensemen
As is the case with any all-time list in the world of sports, the order of this one can be argued. The truth is that the Wild have been fortunate enough to have so many talented defensemen since they joined the league back in 2000. The good thing for fans is that a lot of the better ones still play for the team now, which means there’s never been a better time for the Wild to make a Stanley Cup run.
In the meantime, feel free to comment below about who’s in your all-time Wild defensemen list or what changes you would make to this one.
All statistics and salary cap numbers courtesy of QuantHockey, Hockeydb and CapFriendly.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You can find previous bylines on the Ottawa Citizen, Capital Current and various sports betting websites.